Jane Campion's choice of Michael Nyman to produce the soundtrack for "The piano" was truly inspired for this unusual film. Set in a remote location in New Zealand, the story involves only a small number of key people. There are some eccentric local characters and an immigrant family bring from the northern hemisphere with them their own customs and attitudes, allowing for a culture clash between the uninhibited and the repressed. However it is in the personal interactions of the lead protagonists that the story unfolds and reveals a complex web of passions.
When you also consider that the lead character, Ada, is mute and communicates solely through her treasured piano, it is clear that music needs to play a central role in this film. Nyman realised this immediately and sought first of all to create the right sound for Ada's music. He decided that she was from Scotland and, as a self-taught musician, would compose music layering Scottish folk, dance and popular songs from the era (Victorian 1850s) onto a classical foundation. Having created a number of piano pieces that Ada would play at various times during the film, he then went on to use these tunes and moods as the background tapestry mixing in other orchestral forces (mainly strings and some woodwind, with saxophones prominent in some tracks) to support the piano sound.
Throughout, Nyman uses the "Minimalist" style which he has helped to found and nurture. He builds complete pieces from fragments which are repeated and allowed to develop in morphing fashion. This is so appropriate for Ada's amateur folk-style compositions. This description of the minimalist philosophy might seem cold and calculating but, on the contrary, Nyman demonstrates that these methods can create works of surprising warmth and depth. The title of one particular track seems to sum up succinctly the impact of Nyman's music in this film: "The Mood that Passes through you".
The Piano is a worthy addition to any soundtrack collection, and available Amazon.com in the US.
Pianists are also invited to try the the sheet music accompanying the film. These are listed within the Michael Nyman page.